By Rosana Mirkovic, senior policy adviser, ACCA
Mentoring… Sounds like a simple enough idea? If you think about it, most of us have a person in our life on whom we rely for guidance and support and whose insights we value and take on board. Business mentoring is an extension of this: entrepreneurs mentoring less experienced business people, helping them along on what is often a lonely journey.
If you think about it more carefully, mentoring is actually quite a complex process. While business advice and consulting have clear objectives and are structured around a service provision, business mentoring is quite a fluid concept. First of all you need to meet the right person, someone who is willing to offer you advice, support and their valuable time and expertise, someone who wishes to see your business grow and develop and who does not want anything immediately obvious in return. No contracts are involved, and the process by which the relationship evolves is probably quite often taken for granted by both parties. It’s something that just happens.
Such relationships are developing all the time and entrepreneurs will often cite how much they value advice from their peers. It is only natural that many development agencies, governments and other institutions are pushing for business mentoring as a credible catalyst to business growth. Mentoring made a strong return to the UK policy arena in late 2010, when the long-awaited report of the British Bankers Association Business Finance Taskforce recommended that Britain’s banks support a network of business mentors, freely accessible to small businesses, by Q2 2011. The UK Government announced plans to help create this network, and we are now very close to its launch.
The question remains to what extent governments or any other agency can facilitate this process. For something that is so strongly dependent on personalities and serendipity – simply being in the right place at a right time – it is difficult to imagine how much we can achieve through such well-meaning initiatives. Third parties cannot create mentoring relationships but this may well be a good experiment to see if they can create the conditions in which they can happen more easily.
In the mean time there is something that we can all do; that is to take initiative and identify those much needed mentors, not forgetting that we ourselves can also be valuable mentors to someone else.